5 - Poe and the Gothic tradition Cambridge Companions Online - Cambridge University Press

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5 - Poe and the Gothic tradition

pp. 72-91

  • Publisher:
  • Cambridge University Press
  • Print Publication Year:
  • 2002
  • Online Publication Date:
  • May 2006

  • Hardback ISBN:
  • 9780521793261
  • Online ISBN:
  • 9780511998591
  • Paperback ISBN:
  • 9780521797276

Few would hazard a challenge to long-standing opinions that Poe was a master of the Gothic horror tale, although many might not as readily be aware that he did not invent Gothic fiction. When he began to attract widespread attention by publishing several macabre tales in the Southern Literary Messenger in early 1835, critics sounded negative notes concerning his “Germanism,” a synonym for Gothicism, just as they deplored his wasting talents on what they deemed had become an outmoded type of fiction. Such caveats, as well as many offered over the course of the century succeeding his death, notwithstanding Poe's Gothic tales, are what have typically attracted greatest numbers of readers, and that allurement is wholly understandable. A descent from such British milestones in literary Gothicism as Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764), William Beckford's Vathek (1786), W. H. Ireland's The Abbess (1798), or Sir Walter Scott's The Bride of Lammermoor (1819) is evident in Poe's writings. In his own day the brief tale of terror, familiarly known to the Anglo-American readership as the signature for fiction in the popular Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, served as Poe's, and other Americans', model, time and again, although his accomplishments in the short story far surpassed what now often reads like so much dross in the pages of the celebrated Scottish and other contemporaneous literary magazines from the first half of the nineteenth century.

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